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The Scottish Missionary Who Died at Auschwitz for Protecting Jewish Schoolgirls

"If these children need me in days of sunshine, how much more do they need me in days of darkness?" -- Jane Haining

When Jane Haining was given the opportunity to escape the Nazi invasion of Budapest, she refused to abandon the Jewish girls in her care, ultimately giving her life to protect her young charges. Haining, who worked as a matron at a school run by the Church of Scotland, also helped many Jewish Hungarians and refugees emigrate to Britain during the war. She remains one of few Scottish people honored as one of the Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem for her aid to Jewish people during the Holocaust, and is believed to be the only Scottish person to die in one of the Nazis' concentration camps. This year, Hungary dedicated its annual torchlight March of the Living — held on April 14 as a tribute to the estimated 565,000 Hungarian Jews killed during the Holocaust — to Haining's memory, honoring her for her devotion to the girls she sought to protect. "If these children need me in days of sunshine," she wrote in 1944, "how much more do they need me in days of darkness?"

Haining was born in 1897 in Dunscore, Scotland. As a young woman, she worked as a clerk and secretary, but after hearing Rev. Dr. George Mackenzie speak about his missionary work, she declared to a friend, "I have found my lifework!" She retrained in domestic science, and in 1932, she accepted a position as matron of the girls' hostel associated with the Church of Scotland's Jewish mission school in Budapest. Many of the students were orphans, or from impoverished families. Haining was responsible for the 30 to 40 girls who boarded at the school, a job she took to happily. "We have one nice little mite who is an orphan and is coming to school for the first time," she wrote in one letter. "She seems to be a lonely wee soul and needs lots of love. We shall see what we can do to make life a little happier for her."

Jane Haining during a trip to Lake Balaton with some of the girls in her care (Photo credit : Church of Scotland)

Her peaceful time at the school was interrupted by the beginning of World War II in 1939. Haining, who was on holiday in Cornwall when war was declared, immediately returned to her students. Although the missions committee in Edinburgh advised her to return home in 1940, Haining refused, saying she felt safe at the school. "Hungary is neutral and anxious to remain so," she wrote to one of her friends, "so we, who are enjoying her hospitality, are refraining from talking politics." However, Hungary could not ignore the war. Jewish refugees began pouring into the country, and the school decided to start training some of them for jobs in Britain. Haining herself taught classes in domestic sciences and lectured on British culture and customs to make the transition easier for the would-be immigrants.

"What a ghastly feeling it must be to know that no one wants you," Haining had noted about rising anti-Semitic sentiment before the war began, "and to feel that your neighbors literally grudge you your daily bread." As supplies in Hungary ran short, it became harder for the school to get enough food for the students. According to one of her colleagues, Haining would get up at 5 in the morning on market days to buy food for the mission hostel, and carry all of the heavy bags home herself. She also reportedly cut up her leather suitcase to repair students' shoes. A student from the school later told a filmmaker, "We understood even as third-graders, that we are protected here, we are not harmed, we are protected, and we are equals. We could see, we could understand this, because they behaved accordingly."

The peaceful moments wouldn't last. In March 1944, Germany invaded Hungary, and began imposing restrictions on Jews as the SS prepared for a mass deportation of hundreds of thousands of people to Auschwitz over an eight week period. On April 25, the Gestapo came to the mission home and arrested Haining, searching her office and bedroom. She was questioned, and charged with a grab-bag of "offenses" — everything from weeping when she put yellow stars on the girls' clothing, to dismissing a housekeeper who was Aryan, to listening to BBC news broadcasts.

Haining was shipped to Auschwitz on May 15 and, unlike the vast majority of Hungarian Jews who were killed in gas chambers immediately upon arrival,  she was initially assigned to a work detail. She survived for several months but, according to a death certificate, died on July 17, 1944 at the age of 47. As a British citizen, her death certificate was delivered to Edinburgh that August; it read that she had died of an illness after being "arrested on account of justified suspicion of espionage against Germany." Many of the Jewish girls that Haining cared for were ultimately sent to Auschwitz as well, where most of them were murdered in the gas chambers.

At the time of Haining's death, little was known about the true horrors of Auschwitz; most people believed it was a regular detention camp. As a result, initial memorials to Haining were simple and local. A memorial tablet at the Scottish mission in Budapest, and two stained glass windows in the vestibule of her church, Queen's Park Govanhill Parish Church in Glasgow, were dedicated in 1946. It wasn't until 1997 that Haining was recognized for the aid she gave to Jewish people by Yad Vashem. Rev. Aaron Stevens of St. Columba’s Church of Scotland, which is next to the former site of the mission school, says that "[s]he helps us expand our ideas of what heroes look like.... We’re not talking about someone who was trained all along that they might have to make difficult decisions. I don’t think that she knew that events would unfold as they did."

Scottish Secretary David Mundell led this year's march in honor of Haining, and said that it was a "huge honor and a great privilege" to help pay tribute to this Scottish hero. Rev. Stevens hopes that the recognition of Haining's courage will also remind people of the importance of standing up against prejudice today. "Seventy-five years on from her death, anti-Semitism is still something we can witness in Hungary or the UK," he points out. "When we commemorate we are also reminding ourselves where these trends can lead." Haining's niece, Deirdre MacDowell — who never had the chance to meet her aunt — hopes that her story will help galvanize people to action: "It seems her name is remembered more and more and with it that ordinary people can and do make a difference."

Books for Children and Adults About Holocaust Rescuers

The Butterfly

The Butterfly

Written by: Patricia Polacco
Illustrated by: Patricia Polacco
Recommended Age: 5 - 8

Monique’s small French village has been occupied by Nazis for some time when she wakes up to see another little girl at the foot of her bed. Sevrine is Jewish, and Monique’s mother has been concealing her and her family in a hidden room in the basement. When a neighbor discovers them, though, both families will have to flee. Based on the real experiences of author Patricia Polacco’s great-aunt, this poignant story shows the power of friendship and quiet heroism, and the courage shown by people who stood up for others in desperate need.

The Whispering Town

The Whispering Town

Written by: Jennifer Elvgren
Illustrated by: Fabio Santomauro
Recommended Age: 6 - 9

In Denmark, the Resistance successfully saved nearly the entire Jewish population across the sea to safety in Sweden, and this picture book captures the suspense and heroism of this incredibly brave act. Anett's family lives in a small Danish fishing village, and they're concealing Carl and his aging mama, the last pair they need to get aboard a fishing boat and to safety. But with the occupying soldiers getting suspicious, and a cloudy sky that will prevent Carl from seeing which way is safe from patrols, it takes Anett's clever idea of a chain of whispers to smuggle them safely to the harbor.

Hidden: A Child's Story of the Holocaust

Hidden: A Child's Story of the Holocaust

Written by: Loic Dauvillier
Illustrated by: Marc Lizano, Greg Salsedo
Recommended Age: 6 - 10

When Elsa's grandmother Dounia has trouble sleeping after a nightmare, Elsa begs her to share why she is so sad. In response, Dounia shares a story even her own son has never heard: a story of a confused child being ostracized by neighbors and teachers, forced to wear a yellow star, and finally, concealed in a secret panel in a wardrobe while her parents are arrested and taken away. This powerful graphic novel handles a difficult topic in an age appropriate way, without concealing the hard truths of history.

Irena's Jars of Secrets

Irena's Jars of Secrets

Written by: Marcia Vaughan
Illustrated by: Ron Mazellan
Recommended Age: 6 - 10

In Poland's Warsaw Ghetto during WWII, a young nurse and social worker went about her daily work, caring for the sick — and smuggling Jewish children out to safety. Irena Sendler knew what she was risking, but she couldn't bear to watch children suffer and do nothing. And after every child was safe — over 2,500 children in total — she meticulously recorded their name in hopes that, someday, they could be reunited with their families. This emotional picture book captures Sendler's remarkable heroism in the face of unthinkable consequences.

Number the Stars

Number the Stars

Written by: Lois Lowry
Recommended Age: 9 and up

It’s Denmark in 1943, and word is leaking out that the Nazis intend to detain the Danish Jews before shipping them to concentration camps. 10-year-old Annemarie doesn’t know why anyone would want to hurt her neighbors, including her best friend, Ellen Rosen, who Annemarie’s family conceals as one of their own. With the efforts of the Danish Resistance — and the entire community — Annemarie looks on as the Jewish population of Denmark, nearly seven thousand people, is seen to safety on Sweden’s shores. This beautiful story of the heroism of ordinary people is sure to be thought-provoking.

Irena's Children: A True Story of Courage - Young Readers Edition

Irena's Children: A True Story of Courage - Young Readers Edition

Recommended Age: 10 - 14

In Irena's Children: The Extraordinary Story of the Woman Who Saved 2,500 Children from the Warsaw Ghetto, Tilar J. Mazzeo told Irena Sendler's incredible story of smuggling children out of the Jewish ghetto to foster families in order to keep them safe; this edition makes that story accessible to younger readers. Tweens and teens will be fascinated to read about the many ways Sendler helped children escape — from hiding them under her overcoat to slipping them through secret passages — and about her incredible determination not to reveal their names and locations, even under torture and risk of losing her life.

Women Heroes of World War II

26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue

Women Heroes of World War II

26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue

Written by: Kathryn J. Atwood
Recommended Age: 12 and up

During World War II, women around the world stood up to protect those they could, doing everything from transmitting radio messages from occupied France, to hiding Jewish families or smuggling them out of dangerous territory, to conducting sabotage missions throughout Europe. Kathryn J. Atwood tells some of their stories in this book, showing how these women, from many nations and backgrounds, each took tremendous risks to fight the battles that they were not permitted to fight on the front. A companion book, Women Heroes of World War II: The Pacific Theater, tells the stories of women's contributions in China, Japan, Malaya, Singapore, the Dutch East Indies, and the Philippines.

Resistance

Resistance

Written by: Jennifer A. Nielsen
Recommended Age: 12 and up

In 1942 Nazi-occupied Poland, Jewish teenager Chaya Lindner is determined to fight the evil destroying her life... even in the face of overwhelming odds. She escapes the Kraków Ghetto where her family is imprisoned and joins the Jewish resistance as a courier. She learns about a planned uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto to fight Nazis' efforts to transport the remaining survivors of the ghetto to death camps. Like her fellow resisters, Chaya knows that there is no possibility that they will 'win' this fight, but they hope to save as many lives as possible, and to live — or die — on their own terms. This powerful historical fiction novel by the author of A Night Divided about the largest single revolt by Jews during WWII explores the Holocaust from the rarely-discussed perspective of Jewish resistance fighters through the story of one heroic young woman.

In My Hands: Memories of a Holocaust Rescuer

In My Hands: Memories of a Holocaust Rescuer

Written by: Irene Opdyke
Recommended Age: 14 and up

When World War II began, 17-year-old Irene Gut was a Polish nursing student, a typical teenager preparing for a future career. Then she was separated from her family, assaulted by Russian soldiers, and forced to serve German officers. But she was determined to help who she could, smuggling food into the ghetto and hiding several Jewish friends at the villa where she worked. And when she was discovered, she even agreed to become mistress to a German major in exchange for protection for Jewish friends. This memoir by a real-life Holocaust rescuer, full of hard choices, is a powerful read for any teen.

Written by: Lynley Smith
Recommended Age: Adults

When a Scottish missionary refused to leave the Hungarian Jewish children she served, she had no idea that she would make the ultimate sacrifice for her beloved students. In this fictionalized diary, readers will learn about Jane Haining's work for a missionary school, the "charges" she faced under Nazi occupation — which included "offenses" like weeping when she helped the girls sew yellow stars on their clothing — and her death in the Auschwitz concentration camp. This powerful tale of faith and compassion will inspire readers curious to learn more about this previously little-known World War II hero.

Written by: Mary Miller
Recommended Age: Adults

When Jane Haining heard about a minister's experiences as a missionary, she declared to a friend, "I have found my life-work!" Haining would become the matron at a Scottish missionary school in Budapest, Hungary, where she cared for orphans and impoverished children, many of them Jews, with tenderness and love. And when World War II threatened, she refused to leave, writing "if these children need me in days of sunshine, how much more do they need me in days of darkness." This detailed biography of the only known Scottish person to have died in one of the Nazi concentration camps celebrates a woman whose devotion and compassion drove her courageous sacrifice.

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